Human Rights Badasses

{August 17, 2007}   Taslima Nasrin

Feministing alerted me to Taslima Nasrin, and I’m so glad, because she’s freaking awesome.

She’s Bangladeshi, but she’s currently living in exile in India. There’s a price on her head and she has received several death threats because of her criticism of Islam. She was raised Muslim but is now an atheist, a secular humanist. About a week ago she was attacked at a book launch for her “anti-Muslim” statements. She has spoken out against the atrocities that Muslims have committed against Hindus, a minority religion there. She wants civil laws that are separate from religion and give women equal rights. For this people want her killed. Few people defended her rights while she was in Bangladesh, even though the majority are not fundamentalists. This is what I mean by badass. If I were her I probably would have just shut up a long time ago.

This is how badass she is, y’all. Her official website has a section for “Banned Books”. You can also check out her poetry there. Not only is she a writer, she’s also a physician. And Feminist of the Year in 2004 for the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Can I just say that I really love how she tackles the issue of religion being used to oppress women? I can name sexist things about all five of the world’s major religions. Hinduism is the hardest because it’s so…decentralized in its authority, from what I gather, but look up “devadasi” if you think there’s nothing anti-woman about it. Not to say that all of religion is horrible and everyone who belongs to a religion is horrible and all the ways people like to exaggerate these statements so they can get mad at me and turn this around into me being the oppressive one, but…I see sexism. And I don’t like it. And I’m glad she’s saying so, so much more eloquently than I could. I also don’t like religious fundamentalism. I think I’m going to stop even differentiating between different types of religious fundamentalists. I think when you go that far you stop worshiping your god and you start worshiping your religion. And at that point, it’s all the same, just with different names and different rules (somewhat), but the hatred, the inflexibility, the disrespect, the irrationality, that’s all the same. Plus I think it’s hilarious to group fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims because they hate each other so much. I love seeing hateful people have the basis of their hate undermined.


Habiba Sultana is a 13 year old girl in Bangladesh. Her father needed money and decided to marry her off to a 23 year old man. She didn’t want to, but what did that matter? She told some of her friends about it at her all-girls school, and they decided that it did matter. Well, that, and it’s against the law to marry off a minor. As usual, my sources conflict on some details. El Pais says a friend told her father (her own father, not Sultana’s) about the issue and asked him to report it to the police, but he didn’t. BBC says Sultana’s friends parents tried to get her father to call the wedding off, but he didn’t. Either way, patriarchy would have the story end there, but these high school girls decided they could accomplish something without depending on men to do it for them and without giving up when a man says no. 50 girls from her school protested the marriage, and sure enough, it was called off and Sultana’s father had to sign that he wouldn’t marry her off until she was of age.

There are lots of things still wrong here, and there are a lot of root problems that need to be fixed before child marriage will end. Poverty, for one, patriarchy, for another, the commodification of women and girls, for yet another. But I can’t help but smile to think about these girls. When I was 13, I would’ve been too self-conscious to protest against something and risk getting in trouble or looking weird. And this is in Bangladesh, not the be-an-individual United States. Quite impressive. And it worked! Sure, she’ll get married off when she’s 18, and there’s no guarantee that guy will treat her properly, but the girls protested and people listened and their demands were met. Females got their voices heard. Kids got their voices heard. Double whammy against patriarchy right there. I hope this experience makes them confident to keep speaking up in the future. Good times.

You can also find the story in the Bangladeshi paper The Daily Star, and I got this from feministing.

et cetera